Maplewood and Oakdale police departments join LightsOn! program

Drivers pulled over for broken lights may receive free fix-it voucher

When money is tight, it can be difficult to afford unexpected vehicle repairs such as a burnt out headlight, but what do you do? You need your vehicle to get to work to make money to fix your vehicle. When citations and fines are added to the mix, it can get even more difficult to afford the repair. 

“Functioning lights are an important public safety issue, but we also recognize the financial burden that repairs and multiple tickets for equipment violations can put on people living in poverty,” said Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell.

“There are many people living in our community who would be financially challenged to pay for a vehicle lighting repair at the exact moment the problem presents itself,” said Oakdale Police Chief William Sullivan. He explained it’s impractical to expect the vehicle to remain parked until the repair is made, but continuing to drive it often results in even more citations and fines, which perpetuate the cycle.

In an effort to help break this cycle, Maplewood and Oakdale’s police departments have partnered with the LightsOn! program and Bobby and Steve’s Auto World. Now, when a vehicle is pulled over for an equipment violation related to lights, officers can provide drivers with LightsOn! vouchers redeemable for free repairs of broken lights at any of the eight Twin Cities Bobby and Steve’s locations.

The program was created by MicroGrants, a Minnesota non-profit that works with partner agencies to promote and support economic self-sufficiency through strategic grants to low-income people. The repairs are done at no charge to the person issued the voucher, and no cost to the cities that participate in the program. MicroGrants underwrites the cost of the repairs with help from Bobby and Steve’s. 

There is no qualifying criteria or paperwork to issue or receive the voucher, but Schnell explained the vouchers will not be available for residents to pick up at the police station. They will be given out at the discretion of the officer making a traffic stop.

“The opportunity to participate in this program is based on a contact initiated by the police officer who observes the violation. The program leaves the matter of enforcement entirely to the officer,” Sullivan said. 

Sullivan added the voucher could be in addition to a warning ticket or citation, but the goal is to make sure that’s the only instance the driver gets pulled over for the same burnt-out light.

“We believe that this will be a positive conversation between the officer and the driver, explaining the program,” said MicroGrants CEO Don Samuels. “If the person can’t afford repairs, the officer has a solution. But we hope the discussion also will touch on how the program can be extended to others who may be in greater need if the driver is able to afford repairs and doesn’t need the voucher. This conversation about solutions, and the community can be an important part of building trust and goodwill between the public and police departments.”

According to Schnell, one of the roles of the police department is helping people come into compliance, and this was one reason he encouraged Maplewood to be involved.  “[LightsOn!] just made so much sense.”

“Once I received more information, it appeared to me to be very worthwhile to at least give it a try,” Sullivan added.

Maplewood and Oakdale are just two of 16 police departments that have now joined the LightsOn! program. The others are Minneapolis, St. Paul, Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Columbia Heights, Crystal, Edina, Mounds View, Richfield, Robbinsdale, Roseville, Spring Lake Park, St. Louis Park and West St. Paul.

“The LightsOn! program is a win-win,” Schnell said. “It helps people avoid economic uncertainty, solves a public safety issue and brightens someone’s day. That doesn’t happen very often when you’re writing tickets all day!”

 

Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.

 

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